As the ASU football team prepares for their final regular season game against the California Golden Bears on Saturday night, the Devils Den offers our Three Tines to Victory for the Sun Devils.
First Tine to Victory: Sober Up
College football pundits love to talk about the so-called “hangover affect”. It’s the phenomenon where a team comes off a great performance leading to a huge victory over a major opponent and then a week later, they come out and lay an egg. The logic is that they are so emotionally spent that they cannot get excited about the next opponent. Some analysts call it a trap game.
While the ingredients may be there for a hangover game, the Devils Den doesn’t believe that will be the case. While it is true that ASU is coming off of a big win over rival Arizona, this team realizes that the season is not over. If anything, this ASU team can now finally relax and just play. All the major hurdles have been cleared. They beat UofA. They’ve earned a bowl game. The fears, the whispers and the disappointment have pretty much disappeared. This fact should take a lot of pressure off of the players and allow them to play loose.
If anything, it’s the Cal Bears that need to check their mental state coming into this game. Cal is desperate to stop the bleeding
as they have lost five of their last six games, including last week’s loss against Stanford. However, fans should be cautioned that it’s not a stretch that ASU could suffer from the UofA hangover. Therefore the players would be wise to “sober up”
Second Tine to Victory: Continue Running the Ball
Yes, this is becoming a weekly theme. But why not? First of all, the rushing attack is the only consistent piece of this ASU football team. Not one Pac-12 opponent has been able to stymie the ASU running game. And even though the vertical passing game woke up last week against Arizona, the smart move would still be to run the ball.
Second of all, the Cal Bears don’t stop the run very well. In fact, they are 11th in the conference in rush defense. This recipe is perfect for a smashmouth game plan for ASU.
Third Tine to Victory: Be Careful with Goff
Cal’s junior quarterback, Jared Goff, likes to throw the ball deep. And he does it well. Actually, he throws every route pretty well. But he likes that deep ball. This factor may be the nuts and bolts of the ASU game plan. Cal’s offensive philosophy is guided by head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Both of coaches believe that a short game opens up the deep pass. ASU can expect Cal to open with lots of stop routes or stick routes in a timing-based approach. Their goal is to get the ASU secondary to creep up and square up, leaving them susceptible to big plays later.
ASU has to be smart enough to not take the bait. They have to make their reads and use the technique and schemes that the coaches call for and not try to be a hero. The other part of that equation is getting pressure on Goff. While Goff is no slug, he’s not a major running threat. If he is allowed to sit in the pocket, the NFL prospect will pick ASU apart. But alas, the ASU defense cannot throw the kitchen sink at Goff like they would a young quarterback. ASU coach Todd Graham cannot be predictable with his blitzes-in both down and distance, as well as schematically. Goff knows how to read defenses and hit a checkdown. The best option, of course, is for the front four defenders to get good pressure on Goff without any blitzing help. Hard to rely on that.
So, the real chess match on display will be the ASU blitz packages versus Cal’s pass protection and screen game. Filmwork and recognition will be the determining factor here. Don’t expect Goff to miss the hurried throws that UofA quarterbacks missed last week.
In the end, Devils Den believes that the outcome of this game lays heavily on the Cal Bears. If they come out and play inspired, focused football, they have the talent to beat a fired up ASU team. If they don’t; if they play with doubt, fear or uncertainty, then an average ASU team will hand them their sixth loss.